Hamilton wins gripping duel with Vettel in Spain

© XPB 

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton closed the gap to Sebastian Vettel in the drivers championship, after winning a fierce battle with his Ferrari rival in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.

Hamilton lost the lead at the start and had to rely on team strategy to put him into a position to pass Vettel on track. Vettel fought back in the final laps but was unable to pass Hamilton before the chequered flag.

It's Hamilton's second win at the Circuit de Barcelona, and the 55th of his Formula 1 career. It means Hamilton is now only six points in arrears in the world championship.

Daniel Ricciardo finished on the podium for Red Bull. His team mate Max Verstappen was involved in a first corner clash with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. It was a strong day for Force India, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon claiming fourth and fifth place ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg.

There was an impressive points finish for Sauber's Pascal Wehrlein in eighth between the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat. Haas' Romain Grosjean picked up a top ten finish after his team mate Kevin Magnussen suffered a late puncture.

Raikkonen and Verstappen collide at the start

Starting from pole position, Hamilton had been unable to get the power down as efficiently as Vettel. That allowed the Ferrari to take the lead into turn 1.

Behind them, Valtteri Bottas found himself alongside Raikkonen and Verstappen only to find that three into one corner won't go. The front left tyre of the Mercedes touched the back right of the Ferrari, enough to tip Raikkonen into the Red Bull on the outside. Both cars suffered suspension and steering damage and were forced to retire.

The cars behind were forced to scatter to avoid collecting Raikkonen and Verstappen. Williams' Felipe Massa made contact with Fernando Alonso in the process, forcing the McLaren off into the gravel. While Alonso lost four places as a result, Massa came off worse as he had to pit with a puncture.

Vettel has already pulled out a two second lead over Hamilton by the end of the first lap. Bottas held on to third ahead of Ricciardo's sole remaining Red Bull. The main beneficiaries of the first lap incident were the two Force Indias, with Perez up to fifth and Ocon sixth.

The majority of the field had started on soft compound tyres. Attempting the undercut, Alonso was the first to pit at the end of lap 12. Magnussen and Sainz responded immediately, and ended up coming close to colliding as they exited pit lane. The incident was reviewed by the stewards but no further action was taken.

Mercedes attempts tyre strategy coup

Vettel was in next time by for a new set of soft tyres. He found himself behind the Red Bull as he returned to the track which briefly held him up while Hamilton laid down a new fastest lap. Hamilton stayed out until the end of lap 21 and switched to the more durable but slower medium tyres for a two-stop strategy. Ricciardo quickly mirrored the approach moments later.

Bottas was left out longer in a bid to hold up Vettel, which he did for a lap and a half. Vettel finally sold the Finn a dummy into turn 1 and used DRS to force his way past. However by then it had cost the Ferrari several seconds over Hamilton. Bottas finally pitted at the end of lap 26, restoring the former order of the top six. Yet to stop, Sauber's Pascal Wehrlein was up to seventh.

The race had just passed the halfway point when Stoffel Vandoorne turned in on Massa going into turn 1, wrecking the McLaren's suspension. A virtual safety car was needed while the marshalls got to work removing the car from the gravel, allowing Wehrlein to make his long-awaited stop. He lost a position to Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, who was in at the same time along with Magnussen. Unfortunately, Wehrlein picked up a five second penalty for not staying to the correct side of the pit lane entry bollard.

The Ferrari and Mercedes pit crews played a game of pit stop bluff, repeatedly feinting by bringing out tyres. When the virtual safety car ended, Hamilton then dived into pit lane for soft tyres. A lap later Vettel was in for mediums. The pair came out side by side and the Mercedes was forced wide in turn 1, handing the lead back to Vettel. It was another incident subsequently reviewed by the race stewards, who once again decided not to get involved.

Bottas goes down in flames

Hamilton was now on the much faster but less durable tyres but struggled to take advantage of them against Vettel. He could also no longer to rely on help from his team mate, after Bottas' engine expired on lap 39. The smoking Mercedes was forced to park by the side of the track, but did not provoke a new safety car. It was Bottas' first retirement of the season.

Five laps later, Hamilton had lined up his best opportunity to take the lead. He duly pulled off the move into turn 1 and quickly pulled away. The team now had to worry about tyre overheating and degradation in the final third of the race. However, to Ferrari's dismay Hamilton was able to maintain sufficient pace to keep him up to four seconds clear. Vettel was also displeased to be held up by backmarkers, including a near-miss while lapping Felipe Massa for the second race in succession.

Race results

Pos Driver Team Gap Stops
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 66 laps - 1:35:56.497s 2
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari + 3.490s 2
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull + 1:13.978s 2
4 Sergio Pérez Force India + 1 lap 2
5 Esteban Ocon Force India + 1 lap 2
6 Nico Hülkenberg Renault + 1 lap 2
7 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso + 1 lap 2
8 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber + 1 lap 1
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso + 1 lap 2
10 Romain Grosjean Haas + 1 lap 2
11 Marcus Ericsson Sauber + 2 laps 2
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren + 2 laps 3
13 Felipe Massa Williams + 2 laps 3
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas + 2 laps 3
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault + 2 laps 3
16 Lance Stroll Williams + 2 laps 2
17 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF 1
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren DNF 1
19 Max Verstappen Red Bull DNF 1
20 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari DNF 0

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